But not entirely forgotten. Along the route of old suburban train lines lie fascinating walking trails and linear parks, each an insight into the city’s hidden charms.
The most accessible is the rail trail along the former Inner Circle line, which runs from Rushall Station in North Fitzroy to Royal Park.
Originally this took suburban trains directly to Spencer Street in the city centre. Later, the station were closed and goods trains chugged along it.
Finally, the rails were removed and the reserve threatened with development. After an epic battle involving locals, unions and government, the route became a linear park, a long thin thread of green meandering across tram tracks and behind terrace houses.
It makes a charming walk. At Rushall Station, you can hear the gentle murmur of Merri Creek below. Then the trail curves through the patterned brick homes of North Fitzroy, built in the late 19th century.
Follow the track west and cross tram line after tram line as they head north out of the city. It’s fascinating to be walking along a walking trail which is so urban; light industry vies with Victorian homes and modern buildings, just a few metres from the former track.
The queen of the route is the former North Carlton railway station, now the home of a community centre. Though lacking a railway, the building is recognisably a former station, with its distinctive red brick structure. Then it’s on to Melbourne Zoo, passing beneath old railway bridges as you head west.
Reopened as a mix of passenger and goods lines, it was gradually removed during the 20th century.
It originally ran all the way from Fairfield Station to Hughesdale Station. All that remains now is the section known as the Alamein line, but the railway reserve is still accessible for most of the route.
The best section to walk or cycle is from Kew to East Malvern. Staring from the corner of High Street and Harp Road, look for the woodpile that’s been there since Victorian times.
Behind it you’ll find the trail, a surprisingly broad expanse of parkland running between houses, with signs marking the original locations of stations. It’s hard to imagine steam trains running through this green space.
Not so the section beyond Whitehorse Road. Here the trail runs through a narrow cutting, often deep below street level and crossed by a series of iron road bridges. It’s cold in the shade but quite beautiful, with ferns and vines growing down the cutting’s face. You half expect to have to dive out of the way of a train coming round the bend.
Once past East Camberwell, the trail follows the Alamein line; you can always cheat at this point by catching a train.
If you do, keep an eye out for Hartwell Station, which was once the railway station for the country town of Walhalla. It was relocated here in 1938 as the former gold mining town subsided into a ghost town.
Another station on the Alamein line, Willison, was opened in 1908 as Golf Links Station, serving the nearby Riversdale Golf Club. The club eventually moved away and the station was renamed in 1936.
Then the trail continues onward from Alamein station, crossing Gardiners Creek. It’s important to go straight on here; a left turn will have you walking across the golfing greens of the Malvern Valley Public Golf Course, interrupting shots. A walkbridge crosses a freeway and lowers the walker gently into East Malvern Station.
From here, a real train will take you back to the city - and the all too solid 21st century world.
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[With this 50th post for the year, Aerohaveno is taking a break until mid-January 2012. See you then... and happy travels in the meantime!]